over two decades practicing martial arts in one form or another has given me a lot of insights and one of them is the value of cross training, not just in terms of running for cardio or strength training, but mixing styles and using weapons training. Quite possibly the most famous cross trainer was also the most famous martial artist of all time. I am of course referring to the dragon, Bruce Lee. In his Tao of Jeet Kune Do Lee explained the advantages of a variety of approaches, the strengths this or that art brought to a fight and where he saw their failings and today we see those truths play out every time you tune in to a UFC broadcast. It comes down to a few things, timing, angles of attack, footwork and range which is the focus of this article.
Range is a difficult concept for some martial artists to deal with, a lot of the time a practitioner will mistake it for reach when they are striking, but it is far more than that. A good sense of range means you understand how to put yourself in a position to strike from a position of power, maintain balance and control your movements to strike accurately and defend yourself. By training in a variety of arts you learn different ways to move and improve your balance, the different styles of striking give you new angles to attack from and new ways to find those angles.
A perfect example of this is a martial artist who trains in karate and muay thai, karate is the system that most people learn first simply because there are so many schools out there and it is a good introduction because at it's core it is a simple system of strikes and blocks that use stance to link the techniques together. One of the big complaints most martial artists have is that traditional karate is "static" there aren't any tricks of footwork that are particularly good at setting up a strike and so a lot of dedicated martial artists supplement it with more "dynamic" styles like muay thai, shaolin boxing, silat, or others.
The problem is that the more dynamic styles also tend to rely on those set up steps that reduce your options and telegraph your technique, like the step all muay thai kickboxers use to set up their kicks, it gives the strike great power but alerts your opponent to your intention. The lines after that are almost identical to those used in karate but it is an alteration of footwork and one that a smart fighter can also use to control the range of the fight. This hypothetical karate-ka and kickboxer can establish their muay thai strikes and then fall back on the shorter and "cleaner" strikes of karate to catch their opponent as they close, or establish their karate strikes and then use their muay thai footwork to close the distance and crowd their opponent, by cross training they have additional tools in their bag.
As to weapons training, well, most of us are never going to carry a bo staff, escrima, or a sword around in our day to day life, but the cross training benefit of using weapons is that they by necessity take flaws in your movement and exaggerate them, a sloppy strike that over extends you when you punch over extends you even more when that punch is a lunge with a sword. With the extra reach you and your opponent also need to pay more attention to distance and position, cross training with weapons can make your hand-to-hand stronger when done correctly.